“Often do the spirits
Of great events stride on before the events,
And in today already walks tomorrow.”
INSTANTLY a great dread seized me. What revelations might not this man be going to make! But I subdued the feeling; and, greeting him with what cordiality I could, settled myself to listen to his explanations.
But Trueman Harwell had no explanations to give, or so it seemed; on the contrary, he had come to apologize for the very violent words he had used the evening before; words which, whatever their effect upon me, he now felt bound to declare had been used without sufficient basis in fact to make their utterance of the least importance.
“But you must have thought you had grounds for so tremendous an accusation, or your act was that of a madman.”
His brow wrinkled heavily, and his eyes assumed a very gloomy expression. “It does not follow,” he returned. “Under the pressure of surprise, I have known men utter convictions no better founded than mine without running the risk of being called mad.”
“Surprise? Mr. Clavering’s face or form must; then, have been known to you. The mere fact of seeing a strange gentleman in the hall would have been insufficient to cause you astonishment, Mr. Harwell.”
He uneasily fingered the back of the chair before which he stood, but made no reply.
“Sit down,” I again urged, this time with a touch of command in my voice. “This is a serious matter, and I intend to deal with it as it deserves. You once said that if you knew anything which might serve to exonerate Eleanore Leavenworth from the suspicion under which she stands, you would be ready to impart it.”
“Pardon me. I said that if I had ever known anything calculated to release her from her unhappy position, I would have spoken,” he coldly corrected.
“Do not quibble. You know, and I know, that you are keeping something back; and I ask you, in her behalf, and in the cause of justice, to tell me what it is.”
“You are mistaken,” was his dogged reply. “I have reasons, perhaps, for certain conclusions I may have drawn; but my conscience will not allow me in cold blood to give utterance to suspicions which may not only damage the reputation of an honest man, but place me in the unpleasant position of an accuser without substantial foundation for my accusations.”
“You occupy that position already,” I retorted, with equal coldness. “Nothing can make me forget that in my presence you have denounced Henry Clavering as the murderer of Mr. Leavenworth. You had better explain yourself, Mr. Harwell.”
He gave me a short look, but moved around and took the chair. “You have me at a disadvantage,” he said, in a lighter tone. “If you choose to profit by your position, and press me to disclose the little I know, I can only regret the necessity under which I lie, and speak.”
“Then you are deterred by conscientious scruples alone?”
“Yes, and by the meagreness of the facts at my command.”
“I will judge of the facts when I have heard them.”
He raised his eyes to mine, and I was astonished to observe a strange eagerness in their depths; evidently his convictions were stronger than his scruples. “Mr. Raymond,” he began, “you are a lawyer, and undoubtedly a practical man; but you may know what it is to scent danger before you see it, to feel influences working in the air over and about you, and yet be in ignorance of what it is that affects you so powerfully, till chance reveals that an enemy has been at your side, or a friend passed your window, or the shadow of death crossed your book as you read, or mingled with your breath as you slept?”
I shook my head, fascinated by the intensity of his gaze into some sort of response.
“Then you cannot understand me, or what I have suffered these last three weeks.” And he drew back with an icy reserve that seemed to promise but little to my now thoroughly awakened curiosity.
“I beg your pardon,” I hastened to say; “but the fact of my never having experienced such sensations does not hinder me from comprehending the emotions of others more affected by spiritual influences than myself.”
He drew himself slowly forward. “Then you will not ridicule me if I say that upon the eve of Mr. Leavenworth’s murder I experienced in a dream all that afterwards occurred; saw him murdered, saw”— and he clasped his hands before him, in an attitude inexpressibly convincing, while his voice sank to a horrified whisper, “saw the face of his murderer!”
I started, looked at him in amazement, a thrill as at a ghostly presence running through me.
“And was that ——” I began.
“My reason for denouncing the man I beheld before me in the hall of Miss Leavenworth’s house last night? It was.” And, taking out his handkerchief, he wiped his forehead, on which the perspiration was standing in large drops.
“You would then intimate that the face you saw in your dream and the face you saw in the hall last night were the same?”
He gravely nodded his head.
I drew my chair nearer to his. “Tell me your dream,” said I.
“It was the night before Mr. Leavenworth’s murder. I had gone to bed feeling especially contented with myself and the world at large; for, though my life is anything but a happy one,” and he heaved a short sigh, “some pleasant words had been said to me that day, and I was revelling in the happiness they conferred, when suddenly a chill struck my heart, and the darkness which a moment before had appeared to me as the abode of peace thrilled to the sound of a supernatural cry, and I heard my name, ‘Trueman, Trueman, True-man,’ repeated three times in a voice I did not recognize, and starting from my pillow beheld at my bedside a woman. Her face was strange to me,” he solemnly proceeded, “but I can give you each and every detail of it, as, bending above me, she stared into my eyes with a growing terror that seemed to implore help, though her lips were quiet, and only the memory of that cry echoed in my ears.”
“Describe the face,” I interposed.
“It was a round, fair, lady’s face. Very lovely in contour, but devoid of coloring; not beautiful, but winning from its childlike look of trust. The hair, banded upon the low, broad forehead, was brown; the eyes, which were very far apart, gray; the mouth, which was its most charming feature, delicate of make and very expressive. There was a dimple in the chin, but none in the cheeks. It was a face to be remembered.”
“Go on,” said I.
“Meeting the gaze of those imploring eyes, I started up. Instantly the face and all vanished, and I became conscious, as we sometimes do in dreams, of a certain movement in the hall below, and the next instant the gliding figure of a man of imposing size entered the library. I remember experiencing a certain thrill at this, half terror, half curiosity, though I seemed to know, as if by intuition, what he was going to do. Strange to say, I now seemed to change my personality, and to be no longer a third party watching these proceedings, but Mr. Leavenworth himself, sitting at his library table and feeling his doom crawling upon him without capacity for speech or power of movement to avert it. Though my back was towards the man, I could feel his stealthy form traverse the passage, enter the room beyond, pass to that stand where the pistol was, try the drawer, find it locked, turn the key, procure the pistol, weigh it in an accustomed hand, and advance again. I could feel each footstep he took as though his feet were in truth upon my heart, and I remember staring at the table before me as if I expected every moment to see it run with my own blood. I can see now how the letters I had been writing danced upon the paper before me, appearing to my eyes to take the phantom shapes of persons and things long ago forgotten; crowding my last moments with regrets and dead shames, wild longings, and unspeakable agonies, through all of which that face, the face of my former dream, mingled, pale, sweet, and searching, while closer and closer behind me crept that noiseless foot till I could feel the glaring of the assassin’s eyes across the narrow threshold separating me from death and hear the click of his teeth as he set his lips for the final act. Ah!” and the secretary’s livid face showed the touch of awful horror, “what words can describe such an experience as that? In one moment, all the agonies of hell in the heart and brain, the next a blank through which I seemed to see afar, and as if suddenly removed from all this, a crouching figure looking at its work with starting eyes and pallid back-drawn lips; and seeing, recognize no face that I had ever known, but one so handsome, so remarkable, so unique in its formation and character, that it would be as easy for me to mistake the countenance of my father as the look and figure of the man revealed to me in my dream.”
“And this face?” said I, in a voice I failed to recognize as my own.
“Was that of him whom we saw leave Mary Leavenworth’s presence last night and go down the hall to the front door.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55